Fourth leg Bridport to Dorchester (15 miles)
Continuing Henry VII’s leisurely ride home to Westminster from Exeter in 1497.
Tues 7 Nov (Julian calendar). The Catholic old calendar dedicated this day to St. Willibrord (patron of Holland) and St. Engelbert, martyr.
Dorchester as a town was reputedly a centre of unrest at the time of the Cornish Rebellion, although the rebels took a more northerly route towards London, via Taunton, Wells and Winchester.
Approaching from Bridport, it’s a lonely stretch of road, then as now, even if it is an AONB. This part of Dorset is very thinly populated, and had been thinning ever since the Romans left. Dorchester was, of course, a major Roman centre in itself and the confluence of at least four Roman roads. Certainly one of those roads leading directly out of Dorchester due west went initially towards Bridport, however it veers off north west towards Eggardon Hill, a different course from today’s A35.
The more direct route in 1887 was a waymarked toll road (now the A35) going through Winterbourne Abbas, which saves half a mile and a little climbing. There’s a map from the 1770s which shows a road going as far as Winterbourne Abbas at the very least. The choice of route would have been more obvious to Henry in 1497.
Where to stay at the end of the journey? Dorchester castle was a ruin long before Henry’s time. The town had a small population of 260 households but thrived as a market town. Its main establishment was a large Franciscan Friary (also referred to as a Priory) built by the castle ruins. The Grey Friars were interested in poverty for themselves and providing service to the outside world, and were held in greater esteem for it (by lay people: less so by many monasteries). There’s also a vague reference to an associated convent, which I assume could be the Poor Clares order of Franciscans. Nearby manors of interest might have included Wolfeton House.
Henry only stayed here one night, before proceeding to Blandford.